Mary Magdalene has fascinated writers and artists over the centuries and been the cause of much speculation. Eastern Christian tradition always honoured her as the specially commissioned witness to Christ’s Resurrection. Western Christendom muddled her identity with the woman taken in adultery, the repentant woman who washed Jesus’ feet and Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’ sister. Western art particularly portrayed her as the repentant sinner – confusing her with the early hermit Mary of Egypt, a reformed prostitute who subsequently lived an eremitical life in the desert.
At the same time early Christian writers recognized her as apostola apostolorum – the Apostle of the Apostles not, as alluded to in the film’s credits, in 2016.
The Dominican Order of Preachers, took her as their patroness because she preached the Good News of the Resurrection. Blessed Humbert of Romans, second Master of the Order after St Dominic wrote: “after the Blessed Virgin no woman could be found to whom greater reverence should be shown in this world and greater glory in heaven.”
Director Garth Davis’ new film purporting to tell her real story bears little resemblance to New Testament accounts, drawing heavily on Gnosticism. Gnosticism has permeated history until the present day, frequently denying the divinity of Jesus and the physical resurrection. Whilst seeming to afford equality to women and men, their texts suggest that women have to transcend their femininity and become male.